Saddleback College honors its graduates during Spring Commencement

Michael Grennell

The Saddleback College Gym was buzzing Friday morning, as the graduating class of 2013 was honored during Spring Commencement.

Saddleback’s class of 2013 was made up of 2,440 students ranging from 18 to 67 years old. Joi Lee was recognized during the ceremony as being the youngest member of the graduating class. Lee received her Associate in Arts degree in Liberal Studies. The oldest member of Saddleback’s graduating class was Kathleen Luellwitz, who received her Associate in Science degree in Health Information Technology.

There were over 1,200 associate degrees and over 1,100 certificates of achievement given to the class of 2013. Of those graduating, 328 students graduated with honors, including 14 students who maintained a 4.0 GPA to graduate summa cum laude.

The keynote speaker at Commencement was University of California, Irvine chancellor Michael Drake. During his speech, Drake stressed to the graduates the importance of good values and their effect on their lives. “It’s the way you live your life that will lead to the quality of life that you have,” Drake said.

Drake continued to talk about good values and what lies ahead for the graduates, before ending his speech by reading “Where The Mind is Without Fear”, a poem by 19th century Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. After Drake finished reading the poem, he spoke once more to the class of 2013 about their future.

“As you awake tomorrow, into that heaven of freedom that Tagore dreamed of and that this country exemplifies, armed with your new education, and the knowledge that you can change the world, let me say that we look forward to sharing the future with you,” Drake said. “Your character and leadership will define us and shape the future. Congratulations to all of you for your great achievements.”

As Drake left the podium, outgoing Associated Student Government president Rodman Oveisi introduced magna cum laude graduate Regina Shiroma as the student speaker. Shiroma spoke about her own personal struggles with a disability, and how it made it difficult for her to get through high school. Through the help and encouragement of her friends, family, and teachers, Shiroma was able to graduate from Saddleback with her Associate in Arts degree.

After telling the crowd about her journey and thanking the people that helped her along the way, she took a moment to speak out to those who have any form of disability.

“Do not allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of your success,” Shiroma said. “Don’t accept the label that society is willing to give you. Don’t allow this label, a word, to define who you are and don’t allow yourself to become attached to the label and use it as a crutch. I encourage you to look deep within yourself, discover who you are, and then persevere. Follow your heart, your dreams, your passion for life, while realizing that there is no one or anything that can stand in your way. Dream and dream big, because you can do anything.”

Before the class walked across the stage, South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees members James Wright, David Lang, and Marcia Milchiker presented the three professors of the year with commemorative plaques. Scott Fier was recognized as Saddleback’s Professor of the year, while Farida Gabdrakhmanova was honored as Associate Professor of the Year and Melinda Smith as Emeritus Professor of the Year.

Speeches and awards out of the way, the graduates finally walked across the stage to receive their degrees. After the students were reseated, Saddleback College president Todd Burnett took to the stage once more and instructed the graduates to move the tassel on their caps from the right side to the left side. With the final part of the ceremony completed, Burnett congratulated the graduates as dozens of balloons came tumbling down from the rafters.

Cynthia Leimbach was one of the 1,039 graduates to receive an Associate in Arts degree on Friday. Aspiring to become a professor in English literature and make a meaningful change in the world, Leimbach will be transferring to University of California, Berkeley after receiving her AA in Liberal Arts from Saddleback. As she stood outside of the gym after the ceremony, she talked about how thankful she was to everyone that had helped her to get her degree.

“I am incredibly grateful and humbled by each student, peer, faculty, mentor, employee, individual, family, and friend that has helped me along the way,” Leimbach said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

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